Monday, August 24, 2009

Kykuit Rockefeller Estate, Daytrip from NYC to Historical Hudson Valley Sites Part I

PART I, Kykuit
Today's excursion to Kykuit and Philipsburg Manor, a Metro North One-Day Getaway package, puts you on the honor system: you'll have to count on walking most of your 10000 steps getting from home to the railroad and back, since we clocked only 2 miles on the old pedometer during the visits to both sites. See below for location map, visiting tips and photos and description of attraction highlights.

  • BTW, if you reserve tickets online either from Metro North, or from the Historic Hudson, you do get a discount, but tickets are available also once you reach the Visitor's Center. The only way to see Kykuit is with an official tour group. The walk through Philipsburg Manor is less formal, but a time is assigned as numbers of visitors dictate.

Once you arrive at the Tarreytown Station on Metro North, you can take a 5 minute taxi ride to the Visitor's Center at Philipsburg Manor (The ONLY WAY TO SEE KYKUIT!!) There, your prepaid ticket is validated and you are scheduled for your selected tour. We had visited once before with the Classic Tour which includes the interior first floor rooms and basement art galleries, and the Coach Barn with its classic cars and antique carriages. Our tour this time, The Selected Highlights, features just the first floor of the interior and much more of the gardens.

Kykuit (from the Dutch word for "lookout") is a magnificent example of the Classical Revival Georgian style. This 40-room hilltop mansion and museum was built by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller and finished in its present form in 1913. The 6-story house and its gardens are full of art in many forms, including, sculpture, painting, and decorative pieces.

Photos of the interior are not allowed. The Historical Hudson Valley site shows a representative view.

International in scope, the sculpture collection's 70-plus pieces, reflects many of the major trends of modern sculpture. It was Nelson, son of John D., Jr., 3rd generation to occupy the house, who collected the 20th century sculpture, and we will find it interspersed amongst the classical structures. In fact, he is credited with being one of the originators of today's concept of sculpture garden.
The one above by Constantine Brancusi stands just outside the entryway of the mansion.

"Oceanus and the Three Rivers", which stands opposite the main entrance, was created in 1913 and is based on a 16th-century scuplture by the Italian artist Giambologna. A painting of this scene by American artist John Paul Sargent hangs just inside the mansion's vestibule.

William Welles Bosworth designed the many beaux arts gardens at Kykuit, such as this field of cone-shaped topiaries.

Aristide Maillol's "Bather Putting Up Her Hair." In the background is the Teahouse, which contained a cafe and ice cream parlor for the delight of the family's children.

And another, not sure about the swim?

Nelson's sculpture collection includes works of Picasso, Moore, David Smith, Nevelson, Brancusi, Giacometti, Noguchi, Calder, and above, Peter Chinni.

The Temple of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty.

A closer look reveals perhaps the early 20th-century taste for modesty.

Look up at the temple's ceiling and you'll be treated to a panorama of angels doing whatever it is angels do.

Behind the Teahouse is a less formal, morning garden. This playful imp controls the water in the fountain where the children often splashed about.

This angel was once owned by famous New York architect Stanford White. Does the statue remind you of another sculpture posted previously on this blog? Does the "Angel of the Waters" at Central Park's Bethesda Fountain come to mind?

Phlox flowers are one of the many plantings that bring the gardens to life. These fragrant perennials are valued for their ability to attract butterflies, to the delight of the young'uns.

This quietly running brook, just steps from the phlox, seemed to appear from nowhere.

An avenue of Linden trees shows the way to the mansion.

\ne of four grottos, this one with it's toadstool-like table and stools, reminded us of a scene from "Alice in Wonderland."

A brass sculpture by Henry Moore.
This whimsical mask-like work got someone singing, M-i-c-k-e-y M-o-u-s-e... (What can you do? It's a random tour group!)

And this piece evoked the question: Oh -- do you get it?

Gaston Lachaise's nudes, all tangled up in desire. The sculpture is called "The Couple," but we prefer the French name "Dans la nuit."

Another LaChaise bronze sculpture. She seems to be caught in a moment of surprise.

The back of the mansion, seen from the stone-carved pool below.

The principles of classical symmetry play out everywhere on the estate. This sculpture, which overlooks a natural-looking swimming pool full of croaking frogs, is centered on a carved rock formation.

To one side of the pool stands this pavilion and free-form sculpture.....

...and voila -- directly opposite stands its mirror image.

The classical theme is carried through with this statue of Hercules, completing one of his twelve labors, this one slaying the nine-headed Hydra.

Leaving the gardens, visitors are given a final treat, this colonnade, which runs along the rose garden.

The mansion looks west toward the Hudson River. One hates to leave this hilltop paradise.

But leave we did, to spend the rest of the afternoon at a nearby part of the Rockefeller Estate which will take us into the 18th century. Watch for Part II at Philipsburg Manor... , and Part III at Van Cortlandt Manor.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Walk Coney Island to Brighton Beach

Saturday was going to be the first bit of sun in a long time. All those days of downpours were sure to bring out the mosquitoes and ticks in the woods upstate, and since one of us already caught Lyme disease this season, we gave up the hike and decided to take the F train for a NYC day at the beach. And for those of us raised in Brooklyn, it was a train ride to the past.

BTW, Coney Island gets its name from the Dutch words for Rabbit Island, but you won't see any rabbits in the wild there today. It was developed as a resort in the 1880s, and then as a destination for day trippers early in the 1900s with the development of the NYC transit system.

 The new Stillwell Avenue Subway Station lets you out at Coney Island. The station resembles European models, and is the world's largest above ground terminal, with 4 platforms and tracks for the D, F, N and Q trains. This station was originally built in 1919, and reconstructed in 2004.

Downstairs on the station concourse, Robert Wilson's silk screened glass brick, Coney Island Baby, depicts the rides, foods and other attractions of Coney Island

This mural by Os Gemeos (the twins in Portuguese) is opposite the station exit. It's a happy mix of fantasy and reality, in a way a perfect lead in to the culture ahead. The two Brazilian graffiti artists have recently completed a mural in Manhattan, corner of Bowery and Houston Street, as noted in the NY Times.

All roads lead to the Coney Island Boardwalk. It's straight ahead, right down Stillwell Avenue. Another institution, Nathan's Famous (hotdogs) is on the right.

Welcome to the crowds at the Boardwalk on a hot July afternoon. Grab a Nathan's Famous and a cold beer and just elbow your way through!

That sand's hot....and watch out for all the broken glass.

You can cool off between swims under the sprinkler palm trees and little gazebos.

Musicians on the boardwalk draw a crowd...and a few hot dancers.

Anglers on the Coney Island Pier try their luck in the ocean.

The water was too cold for a couple of aged hikers, but not for these hearty souls.

Looking east toward Brighton Beach from the Coney Island Pier. Those white buildings in the distance are new apartment houses. At the horizon is Breezy Point and gateway to the Rockaways.

The Parachute Jump, out of service since 1968, is one of the signature attractions at Coney Island. It's not working today, but the memory of the one ride lasts forever: the slow ascent, the bump at the top, and the seconds of free fall before the shoot opened. It's the only part of Steeplechase Amusement Park still standing.

This refreshment stand is topped by a Pillsbury Doughboy-like figure holding a burger. Astroland Park, home of the Cyclone, is just to the left.

...the Cyclone is an example of what some kids 50 years ago found to be the most thrilling roller coaster. Riders today laugh and call it tame.

...and so's the Wonder Wheel. Even we found it dull in the stationary car. Definitely ride the swinging ones.

Here's another (ugly) remnant of Old Coney Island--the Freak Show....You can shoot the Freak with a paint ball gun. Hit the poor devil and win a prize--probably a stuffed panda. A close look makes it a good guess that this fellow has set up a make-shift operation on an empty lot.

The New York Aquarium is just behind that wall. Enter and you will find yourself transported to the wonders of the deep, including exhibits of sea lions, stingers, penguins, and coral reef conservation.

Brighton Beach Playground, at Brighton 2nd Street and the boardwalk, is run by the NYC Parks Dept, and is a great place for kids to run through the icy, car-wash-like sprinkler, climb on the gym equipment, and enjoy the Japanese Flowering Cherry Trees and Montauk Daisies.

A short stroll East on the boardwalk takes you to Bay 3 in Brighton Beach. It's considerably less crowded than the Coney Island section of the Beach--and has a lot less broken glass and beer cans. In the 1950s and earlier, high schoolers spent many a summer day spreading blankets and baby oil, and eating a somewhat sandy, home-packed picnic lunch while scanning the crowd for friends.

Soft-serve ice cream, or "custard" as we used to call it back in the day, still tastes great but now costs $2.50 instead of 25 cents.

Tatiana Restaurant is a popular with Russians and tourists alike. Order their special sturgeon kebabs and a cool shot of Stoli. The most recommended restaurants, though, are away from the surf on Brighton Beach Avenue. We'll tuck the restaurant guide in here in case you're thinking of dinner already.

The Oceana Condo , at Coney Island Avenue in Brighton Beach, has replaced Brighton Beach Baths, a private pool and locker club, and center for the famous Brighton Beach handball tournaments. We called it Brighton Private and used the lockers and communal showers, men and women separately of course. After a swim in the pool, you could get your hand stamped for re-entry before going out on the public beach to find friends and take a run into the ocean.

These apartments start at $500,000 (but you won't get an ocean view for that price).

If you walk around the corner from the Oceana to this beauty, you'll find apartments are far less costly. It's a gorgeous example of Art Deco style.

You used to be able to catch a great double feature at the Atlantic Oceana cinema. Today it is a venue for Russian Theater.

The former home of Mrs. Stahl's Knishes, at Brighton Beach and Coney Island Avenues, is now a Subway shop. Back in the 50s, the first thing we would do when we came down from the elevated train was stop at Mrs. Stahl's for a hot potato or kasha knish to take to the beach. An innovation in the late 50s was fruited knishes, e. g. blueberry or cherry. That's when the choices got harder.

The bank at the corner of Brighton Beach Avenue and Coney Island Avenue marks the corner behind which the now-vanished institution, Brighton Beach Baths, once stood. We can still hear the smack of the hand balls against the concrete courts echoing from the past.

 Brighton Beach was invaded by the Russians (and other Eastern Europeans) beginning in 1970. Today, they've become so populous that Brighton Beach is known as "Little Russia."

Anyone here read Russian? The language dominates the area. Some restaurants have menus outside that are only in Russian. The fruit and vegetable markets have the best prices ever: 99 cents a pound for peaches, nectarines, watermelon and even cherries.

The Primorski Restaurant on Brighton Beach Avenue, is where we had a great dinner. The Chicken Kebab and the Salmon Kebab were was the Georgian wine and giant bottle of Russian beer. There was even a chanteuse crooning Popular Russian songs....

Inside the Primorski. Because it's also a night club of sorts, there was a 15 percent service charge. But we, tourists that we were, also tipped 15 percent. Oh, well....We'll know better the next visit.

If you are up for a Russian nightclub experience with lots to eat and drink, there are a few right here on Brighton Beach Avenue, just steps from the QB train station. Come with a group for the most fun.

After dinner, we took a last walk to the beach and caught the sunset. The boardwalk is a very different place without the crowds.

The QB line, up those stairs, right there in the middle of Brighton Beach, Little Russia, where we ended our walk, was straight ride back to Manhattan. We recalled our youths and the gritty, grimy discomfort of going home on the train with the sand and sea salt still stuck to the Bain de Soleil suntan oil.

Adieu Brighton and Coney. We took the Q train back to Manhattan. But we're sure we'll return.

We managed to clock 5 miles on the old pedometer in all our meandering and backtracking to see sights, get snacks and check out restaurants. Maybe next week we'll make it to the woods. D'ya think?

Coney Island: Lost and Found

 American Experience - Coney Island

 Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century

 Coney Island: The People's Playground

 The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson